In a recent Clean Energy speech, Governor Deval Patrick vowed to make Massachusetts No. 1 in biogas production. This goal got a major boost when Governor Patrick joined legislators and advocates to sign "An Act Relative to Competitively Priced Electricity in the Commonwealth." Several provisions in this bill will directly strengthen MassDEP's work to tap the hidden energy value of food waste, an initiative MassDEP is pursuing with the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) through the Clean Energy Results Program (CERP).
Another major component of this legislation is raising the total "net metering" cap from 3 to 6 percent of the utilities' peak load. Net metering allows owners of solar, wind, and other clean energy facilities to run their electric meters backwards and use energy produced "behind the meter" (i.e. on-site). Net-metering also allows owners to sell excess power generated by a facility back to the grid, providing an important monetary incentive for the installation of renewable energy. The current statewide cap for net-metering of 3 percent is close to being reached.
Recognizing the many benefits of anaerobic digestion (AD), the legislation added AD as an eligible technology allowed to net meter (along with agricultural facilities, wind and solar). Anaerobic digestion is a technology that converts organic material - such as food waste and bio-solids from wastewater treatment - into a methane-rich biogas that can be used for heat and electricity. MassDEP has been working over the past year to put a number of measures in place to ensure the streamlined, responsible siting of anaerobic digestion facilities.
Complimenting the legislation, MassDEP has several AD initiatives underway, including:
- Regulations that will streamline project siting
- An innovative partnership with the state Division of Capital Asset Management that has identified several state properties that may be good candidates for hosting anaerobic digestion operations (using food from on-site to create heat and electricity for state buildings);
- Plans to augment existing funding programs to provide additional incentives for project siting; and
- Work towards implementing an organics ban in 2014 that will ensure the organic material needed to support future anaerobic digesters sited in Massachusetts.
Other components of the Act that will intersect with MassDEP's clean energy work include
- Mandating that electricity distribution companies continue soliciting proposals for long-term contracts from renewable energy generating facilities. The deadline was extended from December 31, 2012 to December 31, 2016 and requires distribution companies to jointly solicit proposals. The contracts will be for 10 to 20 years, and have to satisfy an additional 4 percent of the utilities' peak load. Ten percent of these contracts will be reserved for newly developed small, emerging or diverse energy generation facilities (DOER has to determine which technologies will qualify exactly). Long-term contracts are a key instrument to secure financing for renewable energy projects at lower costs to ratepayers, as they provide long-term certainty.
- Establishing a power plant revitalization task force to implement a plan and recommend legislative action to ensure the full deconstruction, remediation and redevelopment or repowering of the Salem Harbor Power Station and other retiring coal-fired plants.
- Calling for DOER to study the reactivation of pre-existing hydroelectric power sites. The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs will review necessary permitting and approvals to determine whether and how the reactivation process can be expedited and streamlined.
These changes will have a positive impact on advancing MassDEP's work with DOER and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to promote clean energy and energy efficiency across the Commonwealth.